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History of Deals, Discounts, and Coupons: Trends, Uses, Case Studies

Throughout the history of coupons and promotional codes, there has been a shift back and forth between coupons used as advertising by businesses and coupons used by customers to save money. When first launched, coupons were mostly used as advertising by businesses seeking to attract customers. Later, coupons were primarily a way for customers to save money no matter where they shopped. Coupons gain huge groups of avid followers (like our very own Erin Sjostrom) and allow companies to show their customers direct benefits and payback.

Let’s look back through the years at how this tactic has changed and progressed…

1894: Asa Candler transformed Coca-Cola from an insignificant tonic to a profitable business by using innovative advertising techniques. The key to this growth was Candler’s ingenious marketing including having the company’s employees and sales reps distribute complimentary coupons for Coca-Cola. Coupons were mailed to potential customers and placed in magazines. It is estimated that between 1894 and 1913 one in nine Americans had received a free Coca-Cola, for a total of 8,500,000 free drinks.


1909: C.W. Post of the Post Cereal brand decided to start offering coupons to customers to allow them to purchase his cereals and the other products that he was selling at a lowered cost. This was the beginning of the real launch of coupons as they were used by businesses throughout the bulk of the 20th Century.


1930 – 1940: Many different retailers started taking cues from Coca-Cola and Post and began offering coupons to their customers. Although customers were taking advantage of this new opportunity to save money from the time that these coupons were first released, the real boom for coupons didn’t come until the Depression Era. When the Depression hit, people had to do everything that they could possibly do to save money.


1957: After the Depression was over, people maintained the habit that they had developed of trying to save money through clipping coupons. This ultimately led to an entire industry devoted to coupons and the use of them just grew over time. By 1957, the first-ever clearing house, named the Nielsen Coupon Clearing House, was created.


1990: With the proliferation of the Internet and the ecommerce industry, it naturally happened that people started creating online coupons. These brought the basic idea of the original coupon to the new medium of online shopping. These coupons go by a wide variety of different names but they basically fall into two different formats: printable coupons and coupon codes. Groupon was a pioneer in this movement.


2011: Today, there seems to be a fairly even balance of both purposes for the coupon industry. With the economy the way that it is, people are continuing to use coupons. Businesses are competing for the money of those customers by offering better coupons and turning to new, cutting-edge means. In June, McDonald’s launched an interactive video billboard campaign that lets users play a digital camera game, with winners receiving free food at a nearby store location. (see video above)

Coupons have been a part of our lives since the nineteenth century so there is a good chance that people will continue to use them well into the twenty first century. However, it is also likely that the format of coupons will continue to change.  Check out this infographic for more:



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